Today is June 6th, and that should be cause for every American to stop and shed a tear. If you know American history, you understand the title of this missive, and what this date means. When I hear about those who castigate America as an imperialist nation, well, they should be ashamed. This day is indicative of the commitment of America and its troops to a simple objective — De Oppresso Liber. Yes, today is the 74th anniversary of D-Day, Operation Overlord, the greatest combined amphibious and airborne operation in history. The mission was simple: liberate Europe from the stranglehold of Nazi Germany.
What is critical for us to embrace is that an 18-year-old American soldier, sailor, or Army aviator involved in this operation is now 92 years old. The understanding is simple: we are losing this impeccable, great generation, who exited the aircraft, climbed the heights, and hit the beaches 74 years ago. My dad, a World War II veteran, was born in 1920, and, sadly, he passed away in 1986. I miss him dearly, and wish he could have seen the man and soldier I became. One who lived up to his challenge as I headed off to Ft. Sill as a young Second Lieutenant, in October 1983: “always take care of your soldiers, boy.” As I drove off, up Kennesaw Avenue, I looked back and saw that man, that soldier, my dad, waving goodbye to me.
I can imagine many a mom and dad waving goodbye to their sons, as they headed off to fight in World War II. I can imagine dads imparting some final wisdom as they boarded trains and buses. I can imagine the pride of so many parents watching their brave American sons head off to defend liberty and freedom.
In my military career, I served in units whose history was tied to D-Day.
My first unit was the 4th Battalion, 325th Airborne Combat Team (ABCT) in Vicenza, Italy. The 325th Regiment started as a Glider Infantry unit, as part of the 82d Airborne Division, specifically for the airborne assault prior to the Normandy beach landings. I served as the Executive Officer of the 1st Battalion (Air Assault), 377th Field Artillery Regiment at Ft. Bragg. The 377th was a Glider artillery unit that manned 75mm howitzers.
My first combat tour of duty was with the nation’s oldest Infantry Division, the famed Big Red One, the US Army First Infantry Division. It was the Big Red One that had the bloody mission of taking Omaha beach, and driving inland. The motto of the First Infantry Division is “No Mission Too Difficult, No Sacrifice Too Great . . . Duty First.”
I was designated an Honorary Member of the 16th Infantry Regiment (HMOR), the nation’s oldest Infantry Regiment. During my time in 1ID, I was the Fire Support Officer for 2d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 2d Brigade. That was my duty assignment in Operation Desert Shield/Storm. Our Task Force was the lead element, main effort for the entire VII Corps offensive operation. But, the true honor was when I was honored at the HMOR ceremony, and met a 16th Infantry Regiment soldier who was at Omaha Beach. And, this summer, in August, I will be at the First Infantry Division reunion in Wheaton, IL.
My second combat tour of duty came with the famed Ivy Division, the 4th Infantry Division. It was a special day when I took command of an Artillery Battalion in the “Steadfast and Loyal” Division on June 6, 2002. It was a day when we remembered the 4ID landing on Utah Beach on D-Day. On that day, there were men who were part of that landing assault invited to my Change of Command ceremony. Their attendance made a special day even more memorable. To know that I served in the same division as Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., who, although he suffered from arthritis, led the Division on the ground. BG Roosevelt is famous for his combat directive upon realizing they had not landed at their planned site: “Inform Division headquarters that we’ve landed at the wrong beach, about 2,000 meters southeast of the planned landing site. But that doesn’t matter, now. We have a secure beachhead. Tell them we start the war from here.”
BG Roosevelt Jr. would die of a heart attack one month after the Utah Beach landing. He is buried there in Normandy with his troops. Buried next to him is his brother, Quentin, who was killed serving as an Army aviator during World War I.
These are the stories we should remember this day. The stories of the Rangers who scaled the cliffs of Pont-du-Hoc. We should remember the Bridge at La Fiere where First Lieutenant John J. Dolan said, “No better place to die,” as he took command of the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, after two senior officers had been killed, and rallied his men to victory.This is a day that must survive the test of time. These are men who must never be forgotten, or cast upon the ash heap of history, barely remembered in any history course. Click To Tweet
St. Mere Eglise, Carentan, are two names that every American should know as they are evidence of our history of bravery, valor, and courage.
Take the time today to share these stories. Tell your kids to put down the PlayStation. Have them watch films like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and, of course the epic The Longest Day. Have them read the book by my friend, and fellow Army soldier, Col John Antal, 7 Leadership Lessons of D-Day. This is a day that must survive the test of time. These are men who must never be forgotten, or cast upon the ash heap of history, barely remembered in any history course.
This is a day where the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC should be crowded. We should all be clamoring to see a living legend, someone who flew the aircraft, drove the landing craft, parachuted in, scaled the cliffs, or landed on The Longest Day. They are treasures, and we must regard them as such. We owe them a debt of gratitude that we can never fully repay.
But we can honor them on this day . . . Remember D-Day.
During his 22 year career in the United States Army, Lieutenant Colonel West served in several combat zones and received many honors including a Bronze Star, three Meritorious Service Medals, three Army Commendation Medals, one with Valor device, and a Valorous Unit Award.
In November of 2010, Allen was elected to the United States Congress, representing Florida’s 22nd District.
West is a commissioned officer in the Texas State Guard. He’s Fox News Contributor, former Director of the Booker T. Washington Initiative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Senior Fellow at the Media Research Center, contributing columnist for Townhall.com, and author of Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin’s Journey to Family, Faith and Freedom, and, Hold Texas, Hold the Nation: Victory or Death, and the forthcoming We Can Overcome.